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Novak Djokovic wins after strange sweat scene; U.S. Open semis set

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NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic, in his previous 10 straight runs to U.S. Open semifinals, had never heard an opponent utter what John Millman said midway through their quarterfinal Wednesday night.

“I don’t know what to do now, I can’t stop sweating,” Millman told Djokovic at the net between games, the Serbian leading 6-3, 2-2 on another muggy night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “I don’t want to change now, but … ”

Djokovic interrupted the plea.

“I get you, and I’m soaked, too, go ahead,” he said. “I’m fine to have a little rest.”

And so Millman left the court in the middle of his first Grand Slam quarterfinal — at the advanced age of 29 — to put on new clothes and shoes. The request was even more unusual because Millman didn’t wait until after the set, or even after one more game to do it during a changeover.

So strange that the U.S. Tennis Association deemed necessary to explain the allowance in a press release before Djokovic finished the 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win just before midnight.

“The chair determined that the surface was dangerous enough to invoke the ‘Equipment Out of Adjustment’ provision in the ITF Duties and Procedures for Officials and allowed Millman to go off court to change clothes/shoes,” the release stated. “Both players agreed that he should do so. Because the chair umpire deemed the situation within the ‘Equipment Out of Adjustment’ provision, Millman was not charged with an official change of attire or bathroom break.”

Djokovic sat as Millman changed, shirt off, arms bent behind his head, towel wrapping his waist, grinning as if enjoying Coney Island beach.

“You don’t stop sweating, though,” the Australian said of the six-minute break. “You go to this little holding room just off the court, and there’s a tiny, probably, like, three-by-three room, even less, and you’re just dripping. The sweating doesn’t stop.”

U.S. Open Semifinals
(17) Serena Williams vs. (19) Anastasija Sevastova: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
(14) Madison Keys vs. (20) Naomi Osaka: Thursday, after Williams-Sevastova

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (3) Juan Martin del Potro: Friday
(6) Novak Djokovic vs. (21) Kei Nishikori: Friday

Temperatures were mild compared to earlier in the tournament — 70s — but the humidity was as punishing as the two veterans’ groundstrokes.

The USTA has made near daily announcements of extreme-heat provisions the last 10 days, including allowing players to leave the court after three sets for 10-minute breaks (after two sets for women’s matches).

“I’m not normally like the biggest sweater. But I don’t know. I was really sweating,” Millman said. “I’d play in a swimming pool if I got to play a quarterfinal, you know, every week at a Grand Slam.”

Djokovic, known for being perhaps the fittest player on tour, said he’s bringing at least 10 shirts for every match here. The conditions are so brutal, he noted, that he saw unflappable Roger Federer sweat like never before in his fourth-round loss to Millman in the same night-time setting at Ashe.

“I personally have never sweat as much as I have here,” Djokovic said after advancing to play Japan’s Kei Nishikori in his 11th straight U.S. Open semifinal. “It feels like sauna.

“I asked the chair umpire whether they are using some form of ventilation or air conditioning down at the court-level side, and then he says that he’s not aware of it, that, you know, only what comes through the hallway type of thing. I think that this tournament needs to address this. I mean, because whether it’s night or day, we just don’t have air down there.”

Djokovic, has made the U.S. Open semis every year since 2007 (with two titles among his 13 total Grand Slam trophies), excluding last year when he missed the event with an elbow injury.

Earlier Wednesday, Nishikori ousted No. 7 Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 in a rematch of the 2014 U.S. Open final won by Cilic. That marked Nishikori’s deepest Grand Slam run.

Djokovic is enjoying a resurgent summer, taking his fourth Wimbledon title to end a two-year Grand Slam title drought.

He then won the Cincinnati Masters leading into the U.S. Open, entering as a co-favorite with top-ranked Rafael Nadal despite being ranked sixth. Nadal gets No. 3 Juan Martin del Potro in the other semifinal.

Also Wednesday, Japan’s Naomi Osaka and American Madison Keys each won in straight sets to set up the second women’s semifinal.

The Osaka-Keys winner gets either Serena Williams, eyeing her record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, or Latvian Anastasija Sevastova (a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist) in Saturday’s final.

Osaka is the only woman left in the draw who has beaten Williams.

Wednesday was historic for Japan, which put a man and woman into the semifinals of the same Grand Slam for the first time.

Nishikori and Osaka are among the 2020 Olympic host nation’s most popular active athletes, a list topped by Shohei Ohtani followed by more baseball players.

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U.S. OPEN: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule

Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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